Bad tactics and good
Senator Jon Corzine (NJ-D) has sent a letter to the White House demanding that Bush denounce the attacks on AARP by USA Next. The USA Next campaign is despicable and Bush has both the power and responsibility to make them stop, but I still have mixed feelings about the tactical usefulness of making demands like this.
In recent years these sorts of demands for apologies and/or denunciations have become commonplace. In some cases the responsibility is well placed and the demands are perfectly valid. But more often the whole business is an exercise in political theater. Democrats and Republicans, liberals, libertarians and conservatives, are all responsible for creating this state of affairs.
The ongoing Ward Churchill brou-ha-ha is a perfect example. Churchill made some rather disgusting statements that implied that all of the workers at the World Trade Center were "little Eichmanns" who deserved to die. Immediately, various conservative operatives seized on Churchill's statements as a weapon to bludgeon their various enemies: liberals, Democrats, and/or academia. They demanded that their targets repudiate Churchill. Why should anyone respond? Churchill is not a spokesman for the Democratic Party. I haven't seen any evidence that even votes Democratic. His statements were not made to benefit the Democrats or support a Democratic issue. The Democrats have no responsibility for Churchill and little ability to control what he says (outside of joining a lynch mob). The same argument holds true for liberalism and the academic establishment.
A secondary aspect of the whole charade is the fact that the demands for apologies and/or denunciations so often come from people who have no standing. The best example of this is both sides hypersensitivity to any hint of racism, classism, anti-Semitism, or sexism by their opponents. How often can we listen to white, wealthy, protestant males express shock and demand apologies for the racial/class/religious/gender insensitivity of other white, wealthy, protestant males and care? In time this silly game of gotcha has the effect of numbing our sensitivity to real racism, classism, anti-Semitism, and sexism.
The reason for making these demands are patently cynical and political. Whether or not the target responds to the demand, the association between the target and the condemned action gets to be made in public (in this case Democrats and Churchill's words). Cynical overuse of this tactic has drained it of any functionality when it really is valid. Corzine's call for the White House to denounce USA Next is just another bit of political noise for most people. The overuse of the tactic relativises all such calls in the public mind. they all look alike. The public looses the ability to discern between valid calls and cynical calls and truly bad behavior gains the protective color of public apathy.
USA Next's ads really are despicable and the White House really does have the ability and responsibility to stop them. The Swift Boat ads (by the same people) show us the course the White House will probably take. First, Bush will simply deny any responsibility. They are a separate organization; they can say whatever they want. If only the FCC had such a strong commitment to free speech. Next, he will try to profit from the situation by demanding we give him something in return for his doing the right thing. Remember his demand that his price for condemning the Swities was a complete ban on 527's like MoveOn? Finally, by the time he does say something, USA Next will have had enough time to do their damage. He will only act when their fifteen minutes of fame has passed.
What's to do? As well meaning as Corzine might be, he's the wrong one to be making the demand. AARP should be the one making the demand through their membership. It is important that they involve their thirty five million members. This post by Paperwight could serve as a rough draft for the message they should send the membership. After that, it would be fair game and a good idea for as many Democrats and others to make their demands in support of the AARP demand.